Locus: A really smart place to be

About this idea

Who the idea will benefit and how

Our proposal is guided by the principles of inclusive design and using these principles to make VLEs as accessible as possible for as many users as possible.

“Accessibility is not necessarily about disability” Guide to using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning – JISC 2015

It is more about reducing the level of ability required to use each product, in order to improve the user experience for a broad range of users, in a variety of situations. Inclusive design does not need to meet every need, but can break down barriers and exclusion and will often achieve superior solutions that will benefit everyone.

The British Standards Institute (2005) guides inclusive designers with, “The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design”.

As technology develops we have the ability to develop systems that work effectively for as broad a range of users as possible and to overcome specific accessibility barriers by using specialist assistive technologies.

Problem: 

All university students need to access vital learning resources and information through their University’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). However, this vital content is less accessible than it could be to a full range of students and particularly so in their normal working contexts via mobile devices.

VLEs were developed during the period before smart phones, so most essential content is presented in a webpage format, is organized by ‘module’ and accessed via multi-level menu based interfaces. 

Mobile phones present a multitude of opportunities to address these issues and also to radically change the way that students access and interact with this information. By making a step-change in thinking and approach we want to make VLE content accessible to all students, in human centric ways that meld seamlessly with their normal working contexts. Furthermore, mobile phones have a range of accessibility tools inbuilt that can overcome any specific accessibility barriers, e.g. Voice recognition, Voice over, Zoom settings, Invert colours for high contrast, Assistive touch, etc.

Our Proposal 

‘Locus’ is an app that configures interactions with VLE content via two key approaches: time and location. Key student interactions with Universities (Lectures, Seminars, Workshops, access to learning resources, etc) are triggered, delivered and received at specific times and in specific locations. Smart phones know what time it is and what location they are in. Our app makes the link between this technology, the VLE content and the human. 

We think of it as embedding the VLE content into the fabric of the University and using the physical space in the University to access it. 

These new interactions with the content will make the data more accessible for everybody on a daily basis. The opportunity to customize these new, more human, interactions, and/or to use a range of overlaying assistive technologies, redoubles the potential for this accessibility.

Time scales and deliverables 

During the four-month design sprint phase we will develop our proposal into a high-fidelity experience prototype with supporting technical documentation. This prototype will be developed through iterative co-design processes, user testing and design ethnography, and will place students at the heart of the process. This approach will focus our efforts on configuring interactions that are comprehensive, realistic and desirable to the end users, ensuring maximum potential for adoption of ‘Locus’ by students as an essential app.

This high-fidelity experience prototype will generate app development work packages and will enable us to seek partners, support and/or funding to complete them.

The Team

This proposal has been developed by students who are on professional placement at redLoop; a design and innovation centre at Middlesex University.

The design sprint phase will be led by Dr. Andy Bardill and Dr. Kate Herd who direct redLoop.

The core design team will be this group of placement students:

Hawa Koroma

Magda Krolikowska

Mahboob Rahman

Betul Salman

Ben Shearly

Ragievan Thanabalasingam

Aaron Walrond

We will induct other student groups into the co-design process through design workshops presented as curriculum enhancement workshops in a variety of subject areas.

We will also work with the University Disability Support service to induct student co-designers with a variety of more challenging accessibility needs.